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A Trump Presidency and Welfare

October 19, 2016
The Republican Party Nominee for President, Donald Trump, is well known for his vague policy positions. It is often difficult to discern what precise agendas a Trump administration would have, particularly on issues in which the nominee has made contradictory statements. Trump announced in his campaign launch in June 2015 that he wished to “save Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security without cuts.”[1] However, his previous positions on welfare and staff appointments contradict this, so what exactly would a President Trump mean for federal welfare?

Historic Background

Welfare policy has been dominated by the persona known as the “welfare queen”, characterized a someone who steals from welfare funds by setting up multiple false identities who all collect from welfare programs, as introduced by Ronald Reagan in 1976.[2] Since then, welfare policies and reform have been framed around the mindset that it should push individuals to work, rather than render individuals dependent on the government. [3] Into the ’80s and ’90s this view of welfare was further perpetuated by the “cycle of poverty,” which argues that those in poverty are in their position not solely due to lack of resources, but because they possess a corrupted set of moral values, that include sentiments such as laziness.[4] This public opinion set the narrative on welfare throughout the ’80s and ’90s, eventually giving rise to political pressure to completely reform the welfare system at the time.

The political pressure for action resulted in Bill Clinton passing the Welfare Reform Act of 1996, which addresses the popular opinion of welfare, by no longer making welfare an entitlement program. It is at this point that we begin to see a very explicit correlation between public opinion on welfare and laws that positively align with them. By requiring employment after two years of benefits and limiting the time one can receive welfare benefits throughout one’s lifetime to five years, legislators created a welfare program that limits the dependence an individual can have on it. A study published in political psychology concluded that modern day opinions on welfare are still primarily based on whether we evaluate to the recipient as lazy or motivated to work. [5] This implies that future welfare reforms and policies put forward might try to adhere to this mindset that seeks to curb “laziness” and promote “ambition.” So what does this mean for 2016?

Trump’s Core Voting Block and Advisors

Trump - like any nominee - is tied to election politics. According to the Pew Research Center, Trump’s core voters are older whites without college degrees; 85% of those surveyed with Republican leanings would vote for Trump over Hillary.[6] In order to maintain this base group, Trump - though an untraditional candidate for the RNC - might maintain policy positions on social safety nets that are more aligned with the conservative values of his base support. There is a strong perception that Trump’s support comes primarily from working class white people; however, data collected in the Pew Center’s election research implies that his largest voting bloc is in fact the middle class. He receives the most support from voters with family incomes of $75,000-$99,000, which removes some voter pressure on welfare.[7] Before his run for president, Trump had also taken to Facebook to denounce budget cuts to military spending before cuts to welfare, which suggests he, himself, has issues with welfare and would be inclined to curtail spending if presented the option.[8]

Moreover, his Vice Presidential pick, Mike Pence, and other advisors are strongly in favor of cutting welfare funding. Pence has previously advocated for sweeping tax cuts both in Indiana and as a member of Congress during the Bush administration.[9] As Governor of Indiana in 2014, Pence reinstated an unemployment time limit for welfare recipients without children that had been removed during the Great Recession.[10] Aside from Pence, Trump has also stacked his appointments with notoriously conservative figures such as John Mashburn, who Trump named Policy Director. Mashburn is heavily conservative on social issues, including welfare. In 2012 he famously reduced the children and the Supplemental Security Income disability program, which helps support families who make below a specified monetary threshold with disabled children.[11]


With Trump’s advisors and administration appearing principally in favor of reducing welfare programs, it is reasonable to conclude that his approach would aim at restricting access to benefits. However, it is difficult to anticipate precise details for these plans since he has not specified a definitive position.[12] Thus, welfare under a President Trump is left uncertain. A trajectory towards welfare restriction is certainly discernible, but the eventual upshot is ambiguous.


  [1]Hanrahan, Tim. “Donald Trump Transcript: ‘Our country needs a truly great leader.’” The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company, 16 June 2015. Web. 16 Oct. 2016.  http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2015/06/16/donald-trump-transcript-our-country-needs-a-truly-great-leader/

  [2]Black, Rachel, and Aleta Sprague. “The ‘Welfare Queen’ Is a Lie.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 28 Sept. 2016. Web. 16 Oct. 2016. http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/09/welfare-queen-myth/501470/\

  [3]Petersen, Michael Bang, et al. “Who deserves help? evolutionary psychology, social emotions, and public opinion about welfare.” Political psychology 33.3 (2012): 395-418. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-9221.2012.00883.x/full

  [4]Zuckerman, Diana M. “Welfare Reform in America: A Clash of Politics and Research.” Journal of Social Issues 56.4 (2000): 587-600. Web. 16 Oct. 2016. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/0022-4537.00186/abstract

  &nspb;[5]Schneiderman, R.M. “Why Do Americans Still Hate Welfare?” Nytimes.com. New York Times, 10 Oct. 2008. Web. 16 Oct. 2016. http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/12/10/why-do-americans-still-hate-welfare/?_r=0

  &nspb;[6]“2016 Campaign: Strong Interest, Widespread Dissatisfaction.” Pew Research Center. The Pew Charitable Trusts, 7 July 2016. Web. 16 Oct. 2016.  http://www.people-press.org/2016/07/07/2-voter-general-election-preferences/

  [7]“Understanding Supplemental Security Income SSI For Children– 2016 Edition.” Social Security Administration. US Government, Nd. Web. 16 Oct. 2016. https://www.ssa.gov/ssi/text-child-ussi.htm

  [8]Trump, Donald. “No cuts to welfare, no cuts to food stamps & NOT A SINGLE CUT TO OBAMACARE, yet the new budget cuts military benefits. Sad!” Facebook, 19 December 2013. Web. 16 Oct. 2016. https://www.facebook.com/DonaldTrump/posts/10153622016980725?stream_ref=5

  [9]Luhby, Tami. “Mike Pence and Trump share this view on taxes: Cut, cut, cut.” CNN Money. Cable News Network, 15 July 2016. Web. 16 Oct. 2016. http://money.cnn.com/2016/07/15/news/economy/pence-taxes/

  [10]Groppe, Maureen. “Indiana reinstates time limits for some food stamp recipients.” Indy Star. USA Today Network, 20 Oct. 2014. Web. 16 Oct. 2016. http://www.indystar.com/story/news/politics/2014/10/19/indiana-reinstates-time-limits-food-stamp-recipients/17572575/

  [11]Hiltzak, Michael. “A Trump presidency would threaten programs like Social Security. Here’s how we know.” The Los Angeles Timeshttp://www.latimes.com/business/hiltzik/la-fi-hiltzik-trump-social-security-20160516-snap-story.html

  [12]Timm, Jane. “A Full List of Donald Trump’s Rapidly Changing Policy Positions.” NBC News. NBCUniversal, 11 Oct. 2016. Web. 16 Oct. 2016. http://www.nbcnews.com/politics/2016-election/full-list-donald-trump-s-rapidly-changing-policy-positions-n547801

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